Premier calls for inquiry into interstate RAT snatcher claims

UPDATED: Premier Steven Marshall has called on the federal consumer watchdog to investigate “outrageous” reports of interstate governments commandeering rapid antigen tests bound for South Australia.

Jan 19, 2022, updated Jan 19, 2022
Photo: Flavio Brancaleone/AAP

Photo: Flavio Brancaleone/AAP

Marshall announced this morning that he would write to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) asking it to conduct an independent investigation into reports that highly sought-after rapid antigen tests ordered by South Australian retailers had been requisitioned by interstate governments.

He described the allegations as “completely and utterly unacceptable” and “quite frankly outrageous”, but said his interstate counterparts had denied involvement.

“South Australians have every right to be outraged if these allegations are correct,” he told FIVEaa.

“My office first heard about this yesterday, we contacted governments interstate.

“They certainly don’t accept that they have jumped the queue, but we think that there needs to be an independent investigation and I’ll be writing to the ACCC this morning.”

In his letter – seen by InDaily – Marshall called on the Commission’s chairperson Rod Sims to conduct the investigation “as a matter of urgency”.

“I am deeply concerned by suggestions that there has been interference in the commercial market which has resulted in suppliers reneging on contracts and preventing supply reaching South Australian customers,” he wrote.

It follows claims from the SA Pharmacy Guild that RAT shipments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars weren’t arriving at private pharmacies, as governments announced increasing quantities of RAT stocks each day.

I’m just constantly told there’s no stock week after week

The guild’s vice-president Greg Scarlett, who works at Haddad Pharmacy in Unley, told InDaily he backordered stock on Christmas Eve but was yet to receive his shipment.

He said pharmacists with limited or no stock were bracing for Monday, when concession card holders become eligible to receive up to 10 free RATs over the course of three months under a federal government initiative.

“It is difficult for our members, difficult for myself as a retailer, to see that governments are getting a drop of $2 million and we’re not seeing any,” he said.

“I’m just constantly told there’s no stock week after week.

“We’re going to have to ask people to be patient while we wait for the supply chain to catch up.”

Scarlett said he would welcome an ACCC inquiry into the issue, saying it could clarify “where the supply chain has let us down”.

“It really is quite concerning when other larger organisations are receiving tests but community pharmacists see nothing,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning denied federal government involvement in the supply chain issues, describing allegations that it had as “absurd”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slammed claims that SA-bound Rapid Antigen Tests were 'hijacked' by the Commonwealth saying the claims are "absurd".

— 10 News First Adelaide (@10NewsFirstAdl) January 19, 2022

“The allegations that the Commonwealth has redirected supplies of rapid antigen tests or indeed that the Commonwealth has impounded private supplies or sought to frustrate private supplies – none of this is true,” he said.

“I’ve got no idea where that’s coming from and it just floats around on social media and then it gets reported.

“Something happening on social media isn’t a story, it’s usually just rubbish.”

Adelaide physiotherapist Henry McGregor, who co-owns Adelaide Health Co in Stepney, told InDaily he tried ordering a shipment of about 100 RATs earlier this month for his staff, but they never arrived.

He said his Sydney-based supplier informed him that the government had seized his order before it crossed the South Australian border.

McGregor said he was unsure which government was responsible.

“I was obviously a bit annoyed about that,” he said.

“It seems like all of a sudden the government got to this point where they realised they stuffed up and decided to take them (RATs) off private hands so that they can supply themselves, when really they should have had a massive stockpile accumulating since the middle of last year.”

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SA Health is due to receive 256,000 RATs each day until January 26, with a further 3.6 million scheduled to arrive early next month.

Health Minister Stephen Wade told ABC Radio Adelaide he hadn’t received confirmation that other governments had seized RATs bound for South Australia, but he was “very concerned”.

“To be frank, right through the pandemic we’ve seen supply chains interrupted,” he said.

“I can certainly remember in the first year – 2020 – we even had friendly nations who were stopping medical supplies on the tarmac and diverting them.

“It’s an extremely concerning event if it is happening because one of the most important things to do in a pandemic environment is to maintain supply channels.”

Wade said SA Health hadn’t asked for any of its orders to be prioritised at the expense of retailers or pharmacies.

“I can’t speak for other governments and that’s why it’s important for these claims to be tested,” he said.

A recent survey conducted by Professional Pharmacists Australia found more than 90 per cent of pharmacists across the country were struggling to get adequate RAT supplies, while more than one-third were unable to source enough COVID-19 vaccines to meet demand.

The union’s CEO Jill McCabe said the situation was “beyond dire”.

“Pharmacists are telling us they are extremely overworked and under significant pressure and that they do not have the supplies and equipment they need to do their jobs properly,” she said.

“One pharmacist said they were only able to access 100 doses of the children’s vaccine every fortnight, despite being the only pharmacy in a district servicing several schools.

“Others spoke of the mounting pressure they were under, including one pharmacist who said there were not enough staff to handle 100 phone calls an hour asking for RATs whilst doing 80 vaccinations a day on top of the regular workload of a 400+/day script pharmacy.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic, and we cannot afford to have working pharmacists overburdened in such a way.”

Marshall said it was crucial that South Australia had an interrupted flow of rapid antigen tests into the state given the global shortage.

“This is not just about business, it’s also about people wanting to go and visit family members who might be in aged care, other vulnerable settings,” he said.

“We know there’s a global shortage but we’ve got to be doing everything we can to make sure that we’ve got the right access here in South Australia and if there has been any interference that’s quite frankly outrageous.”

Marshall will announce South Australia’s latest COVID-19 case numbers at a press conference early this afternoon.

There were 3079 new COVID-19 cases reported in SA yesterday – a significant drop from Monday – but the number of infectious people in hospital increased by 58.

Five COVID-positive people were in hospital on ventilators, while two men aged in their 80s and 90s died.

More than 73,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported nationally on Tuesday, with Morrison warning it would take several weeks before deaths and hospitalisations from the Omicron variant reach their peak, despite plateauing case numbers.

– with AAP

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